The COVID-19 Emergency: Funerals in Streaming and Video Calls

By  //  September 20, 2020

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coronavirus and the 'digital death'

The epidemiological emergency from Covid-19 will be remembered not only for the catastrophic effects that the virus has produced and will continue to produce in the health, political, social and economic fields, but also for having made the actuality objective – once and for all – of the so-called Digital Death.

The epidemiological emergency from Covid-19 will be remembered not only for the catastrophic effects that the virus has produced and will continue to produce in the health, political, social and economic fields, but also for having made the actuality objective – once and for all – of the so-called Digital Death.

This term refers to the set of theoretical and practical issues concerning the link between current digital technologies and death.

When we talk about “digital death” we generally think, on the one hand, of the ways in which the relationship between the individual and the end of life has changed, especially since the popular diffusion of the internet between the 1980s and 1990s; on the other hand, the consequences that derive from it as regards the construction of personal identity and its link with memory, as well as in relation to the narrative following the death of oneself or another individual.

To fully understand how today’s emergency situation has brought to light the importance of issues relating to Digital Death, it is necessary to take into account an aspect that has become evident in the last two months: suddenly and in spite of ourselves, we discovered what it means to keep online dimension from offline one.

If we exclude those few who are still stuck in an obsolete separation between real and virtual, the result of their subjective prejudice towards digital technologies, we know that most human beings have become accustomed – over the years – to living inside a kind of global infosphere.

The main feature of the infosphere is to consider the offline dimension an inconceivable expression regardless of its link with the online one.

The concept of “offline” has no meaning except in the relationship it has with the concept of “online”. Now, forced to put physical bodies on standby, protected from the infection of the virus in domestic homes or placed in isolation in specific hospital wards, we rely on digital bodies to continue life suddenly interrupted.

It can be said that the replacement – hopefully, momentarily – of “physical” existences with “digital” ones is underway.

On the other hand, most of our activities currently need the mediation of screens to avoid stopping.

If this unprecedented hyperconnection obviously produces problematic consequences in a broad sense (alienation, first of all), it is instead fundamental in relation to many issues relating to the end of life.

The funeral, which relatives and friends cannot attend, are now being streamed, in order to avoid the situation, that is to say, the dead man left completely alone during the rite funeral.

The Guardian informed us that the directors of the main funeral homes in Britain gathered immediately – as soon as the pandemic broke out – to study how to provide the funeral live streaming service to all relatives of the victims of Covid-19.

That natural instinct to group together, during such a painful situation as a funeral rite, cannot be held back by a (reasonable) protection of our bodies. Therefore, it must be satisfied in another way, making use of our hyperconnection and therefore the social life of our digital identities.

Over the months we have thus learned to live with every type of technological rite alternative to the traditional one, suddenly projecting ourselves into the future and putting aside the prejudicial ethical condemnations against the use of digital technologies in the presence of funeral rituals.

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